Yesterday I attended one of the most moving ceremonies of my life. “From Fear to Hope: Commemorating 9-11,” held at the Dole Center for Politics, brought together people of many backgrounds, beliefs, politics, and especially religions. In the middle of the ceremony, 11 people stood on a podium before a line of candles, each one sharing a prayer or perspective from their religious — or in one case — non-religious beliefs. I looked out to see a young Baha’i girl with a beautiful peach smocked dress who read a prayer, an older Hindu man telling us about the tenants of his religion, a middle-aged Jewish woman sharing a deep reflection that ended in prayer, a Sicangu Kalotan man talking about the sacredness of life, a Moslim boy sharing a prayer, and others representing the Wiccan, Zoroastrian, Non-religious, Christian and Buddhist traditions (I know, it was an “only in Lawrence” kind of moment). After they each spoke, each took a candle and gathered in a circle around a larger candle, symbolizing hope, to light it together.
This was just one of many beautiful moments from this ceremony along with Cindy Novelo singing her original song, “Deliver Me”; a community choir inviting us to sing with them “This is My Song” and later, “Keep On Moving Forward,” the honoring of first responders through recognizing the chiefs of the local police and fire departments; three Free State High School students, members of an interfaith forum, reading of a long list of countries, all of which lost a citizen in the 9-11 attacks; welcomes from people from the town and university; the “Almost All Clarinet Quartet” sharing sounds of sorrow and awakening.
What moved me the most were two survivors — one of the World Trade Center and another of the Pentagon attacks — telling their stories. Jane Tedder was in New York City for a conference and to spend time with her sister. At the time the first plane flew into the first tower, they was finishing breakfast at the Marriott, which was between both towers. She told the story of running with her sister through thick clouds of debris, hold a wet napkin over their noses and mouths and sweater over their heads. Eventually, they made their way to the ferry, then across the water to NJ and to Hoboken, and although they had no identification, money or other clothes on them, all they needed was quickly provided for by so many people doing so they could to help survivors.
Capt. Thomas C. Neal, who was working at the Pentagon at the time, describes what he went through when the building was hit, and how he (and probably few others) imagined that piercing sound and rumble of space all around them could be a plane. He tells of making his way out of the building with thousands of others, walking home while traffic was stopped in all directions, finally being able to show his wife he was okay after phone service stopped, and then being given the task of telling a young wife that her husband was among the missing. He also told of losing four friends, three of whom had pregnant wives at the time.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Tedder and Neal carried a kind of wreath shaped with five sides for the Pentagon, decorated with native grasses and wildflowers for the Pennsylvania field, and a sunflower for the Kansans lost to two beams from the World Trade Center. There they hung this wreath, a reminder of how we’re all part of what’s been damaged and lost as well as what’s growing and alive.
Thanks to the organizers of the event, especially Dru Sampson, and the wonderfully compassionate and wise Thad Holcolm who led us through this ceremony.